Julio Herrera y Reissig (1875-1910) was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, and spent almost his entire short life there. Apart from a single visit to Buenos Aires and a few sojourns in the Uruguayan interior, he divided nearly all his time between his family’s mansion in the Uruguayan capital and their summer retreat, the Castillo Piria, a Gothic castle-like structure near Piriapolis. This was due to a serious congenital heart ailment, and his refuge was reading, which eventually led him to embark on a literary career which would only reach fruition some years after his death. In 1900, at age 25, he transformed the top floor of the family home in Montevideo into a literary salon nicknamed ‘La Torre de los Panoramas’ (‘The Tower of Vistas’) because of its fine view out over the city and the Rio de la Plata. There he himself underwent a transformation, from Romanticism to Modernism and Surrealism. He is best known for his sonnets, particularly the ‘Sonetos Vascos’, devoted to the landscape of Northern Spain which he had never seen, but from which he considered himself to be an exile.
Here is my translation of the sonnet ‘The Return from the Fields’, one of the eleven poems in the cycle ‘Las Manzanas de Amaryllis’ (‘The Apples of Amaryllis’), which first appeared in ‘El Diario Español’ in the Argentine capital in April 1905, followed by Herrera y Reissig’s original.
The Return from the Fields
Evening recompenses labor with divine gold…
Cleanly dressed women in percales appear,
Plaiting their hair with lindens and white lilies
Or doing needlework on the thresholds of doors.
Cleated shoes and staffs and shawls…
Two girls with large pitchers just slip past.
The sleepwalking flight of the placid hours.
A breath from Arcadia combs through the thickets…
An austere silence falls. From the enhaloed pool
A twangy ballad of xylophones explodes.
The lakes fade with flashes of spectral light,
The hilltops, unreal now, crown themselves with roses…
And the dusty roads smoke in the distance,
Where the laborers return from the fields.
La vuelta de los campos
La tarde paga en oro divino las faenas…
Se ven limpias mujeres vestidas de percales,
Trenzando sus cabellos con tilos y azucenas
O haciendo sus labores de agujo en los umbrales.
Zapatos claveteados y baculos y chales…
Dos mozas con sus cantaros se deslizan apenas.
Huye el vuelo sonambulo de las horas serenas.
Un suspiro de Arcadia peina los matorrales…
Cae un silencio austero…Del charco que se nimba
Estalla una gangosa balada de marimba.
Los lagos se amortiguan con espectrales lampos,
Las cumbres, ya quimericas, coronanse de rosas…
Y humean a lo lejos las rutas polvorosas
Por donde los labriegos regresan de los campos.